Apple has a new patent (via AppleInsider) that combines the best of both worlds when it comes to input – physical keys and touch-based input. The hybrid design would provide users with more flexibility when it comes to doing things beyond typing, all without taking away the satisfying click of a real, switch-based keyboard.
The patent includes provisions for including capacitive touch sensors on each key, letting a keyboard (integrated or external accessory) detect inputs like swipes and zooms, the same way a MacBook’s trackpad might currently be able to. The system also allows for simultaneous combined touch and keyboard input, meaning you can type with one hand while using touch gestures with the other.
Apple’s invention also makes use of two-stage mechanical keys, unlike the single stage switches found in current keyboard designs, including the standard keyboard, as well as the new MacBook’s redesigned version. This could be used to make the entire keyboard clickable, letting you hit the first stage of button pressing to type a letter, and then press further still (demonstrating a different intent) to initiate a click, like when you press down on a MacBook’s trackpad.
The hybrid keyboard design does seem a little unlikely to make it to production when Apple has already shown that it likely wants to go in a different direction with its new butterfly-mechanism MacBook keyboard. You could see it combining that kind of design with Force Touch tech to create a different kind of hybrid. This other design, however, might make more sense in Pro machines like the MacBook Pro, where greater key travel still has a lot of value for the target market.